Asparagus growers grapple with cost pressures

A Michigan asparagus grower says mandated wage increases by the Department of Labor are not sustainable and threaten the industry.

“Everything across the board has risen and it’s basically just coming out of your margin.”

Fourth-generation farmer Nick Ooman of Hart tells Brownfield the cost of the H-2A seasonal farm worker program, including this year’s nearly 13 percent wage increase, application fees, along with housing and transportation, puts the U.S. at a disadvantage.

“It’s hard to compete when we’re when we’re paying $17.00 an hour and we’re competing against Mexico and Peru, who are paying, you know, far less than that,” he explains.

Ooman says he’s also having to absorb higher input costs while retail prices remain the same.

“We’re price takers,” he says. “They’re only going to pay so much and, at the end of the day, you’re just forced to compete with their pricing.”

He tells Brownfield some of his H-2A workers are also concerned the hikes will leave them without farm work.

Ooman says if something doesn’t change soon, farmers will grow something else or leave the industry entirely.  That could mean a $25 million dollar loss to Michigan’s economy, the nation’s largest producer, and threaten the viability of U.S grown asparagus and the small, rural communities the industry supports.

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